antiquities

In April, President Trump signed an executive order mandating Secretaryn of Interior Ryan Zinke to review dozens of national monuments with an eye towards shrinking or revoking their protections altogether. One of those national monuments was Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks.

In response to this review, more than 24,000 Montanans submitted comments to Zinke telling him to leave the Breaks and other national monuments alone. As a result, Zinke recommended no changes to the Breaks, at which point we thought the national monument was safe from political partisan games, at least for the time being.

We were wrong.

This month, Rep. Greg Gianforte turned his back on Montanans and voted for a bill in the House Natural Resources Committee that throws all national monuments into perpetual jeopardy, including those we have in Montana. This bill allows the current and future presidents to shrink national monuments and makes it virtually impossible for future presidents to designate any additional ones.

To make matters worse, Sen. Steve Daines is co-sponsoring a companion bill (S. 33) that also prevents future presidents from designating national monuments. Both H.R. 3900 and S. 33 target the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law that enables presidents to set aside and permanently protect public lands that have exceptional natural, cultural, historical, and scientific value to the people of Montana and the United States.

Despite the outpouring of support for the Breaks and other national monuments this summer, despite the Colorado College poll that shows 77 percent of Montanans support national monuments, Gianforte and Daines are aligning with Utah’s congressional delegation to dismantle the Antiquities Act, a central pillar of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy and a key component of America’s conservation heritage. Over the past 110 years, 16 presidents – eight Democrats and eight Republicans – have used the Antiquities Act to designate 157 national monuments.

Absurdly titled the “National Monument Creation and Protection Act,” H.R. 3990 was introduced by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop to further his long crusade to dispose of and industrialize public lands that Montanans and other Americans cherish for their natural beauty and cultural importance. Had H.R. 3990 or S. 33 been law in 2001, the Upper Missouri River Breaks would never have been protected as a national monument or attracted thousands of additional visitors who spend millions of dollars each year in Fort Benton and other gateway communities surrounding the monument.

Monument protection of the Upper Missouri River Breaks ensures future generations will enjoy the same opportunity we now have to hunt the best big game in the world; to view tipi rings, rock art, and other artifacts that go back thousands of years; and to camp and hike in the same riverside spots that Lewis and Clark did in 1805. Monument protection of Pompeys Pillar similarly enables future generations to physically connect with a moment that changed the course of Montana’s history.

If either of these bills becomes law, we will lose an important tool to permanently protect the places that embody our shared legacy as Americans. As Zinke suggested this summer, there are still places in Montana, such as the Badger-Two Medicine, that could be protected using the Antiquities Act. These bills will close the door on that opportunity.

National monument protection of these special places did not occur out of thin air. Thousands of Montanans wrote comments, attended public meetings, and spoke up for protecting the Upper Missouri River Breaks. H.R. 2900 and S. 33 would make it difficult, if not impossible, for any future president to act on this kind of groundswell of public support.

Call Gianforte at 202-225-3211 and Daines at 202-224-2651 and ask them to withdraw their support of H.R. 3900 and S. 33 and instead support the preservation of places that define who we are as a people.

Nicolle Fugere owns Missouri River Outfitters in Fort Benton. Hilary Hutcheson hosts Trout TV, a fly-fishing guide, and owns Lary’s Fly and Supply in Columbia Falls. Shane Doyle, EdD, is an educator and Crow tribal member living in Bozeman. Larry Epstein is a former Glacier County attorney living in Essex and Helena. All represent Hold Our Ground at holdourground.org.

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